Legal buzz

THE WEEK AT THE SIGNET LIBRARY began bright and early with an international congress of over 200 judges from Brazil. The Associação dos Magistrados Brasileiros (AMB) have been visiting important legal sites throughout the UK – such as the Supreme Court in London – as part of their congress in the UK. Naturally, the Signet Library was on their list. Deputy Keeper Caroline Docherty WS welcomed the judges to the building and gave a brief history of the Writers to the Signet. Advocate David Parratt QC then gave the judges a rapid tour of Scotland's court structure and procedure, recommending that pronouncing “record” (as in closed record) would communicate instant credibility in matter of Scots law. WS Society CEO Robert Pirrie WS spoke about the history and function of solicitors, commenting that transacting business required “an understanding that law is only one element in human affairs and often not the most important”. All this was translated to Portuguese by three interpreters in a booth installed in the upper library. During Pirrie’s presentation noises-off interrupted proceedings when the three interpreters became mightily distracted by a wasp in their confined workspace. Much flapping ensued before the insect was eventually killed to a round of judicial applause. Asked by the congress chair if he would be prepared to take on the defence of the interpreters in the homicide of the wasp, Pirrie said: “A special defence of provocation applies: the wasp was very excessively aggressive.” The morning’s events were concluded by James Woolf QC as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, whose imminent appointment as Lord Advocate had been announced that very morning.


TUESDAY MORNING ALSO SAW ANDREW STEWART QC WS installed as a Senator of the College of Justice with the judicial title Lord Ericht. Following the ceremony, Lord Ericht celebrated with friends and colleagues at the Signet Library, with champagne served in the west salon of Colonnades before a lunch in the Commissioners’ Room. This followed the appointment of Eilidh Wiseman WS as President of the Law Society of Scotland.

ON WEDNESDAY AT THE HIGH COURT IN LIVINGSTON a mother and her civil partner were found guilty of murdering a toddler in March 2014. The high-profile case left politicians and welfare groups expressing outrage at multiple failures by the social services system. A campaign group opposing the Scottish government’s controversial named person legislation claimed the case raised more questions about the scheme. Fife, where the murder took place, is one of a number of regions currently implementing a pilot of the initiative. Campaigners and opposition politicians questioned the government’s claim that the legislation was “working well”. Fife council have launched an independent review. The Times leader thundered that the issue wasn’t about the case coming to the attention of the system, but rather that the system hadn’t worked.


THE WESTMINSTER PARTY IN GOVERNMENT was in court in Kent attempting to prevent an election expenses investigation by Kent police being given any more time. District Judge Barron found against the Conservative party, stating “In my judgement the combination of circumstances before me is wholly exceptional and goes far beyond the usual circumstances that would exist in a typical case where election expenses are being investigated”. Michael Crick, Channel 4 News’ celebrated political correspondent has been pursuing the story in his inimitable style. The Guardian’s Michael White is one of those to question why a situation that could hypothetically result in elections being voided and the Conservatives losing their parliamentary majority has resulted in so little press coverage. Bizarre when even the EU referendum depends for its legitimacy on that election result. 


CITY FIRM CLIFFORD CHANCE is conducting an inquiry for Conservative Campaign HQ into allegations of bullying by Mark Clarke, the man in charge of the party’s Road Trip campaign. Coincidentally it is the expenses incurred during s this initiative – which involved bussing in large numbers of activists to marginal seats – that is at the heart of Michael Crick’s investigations. An inquest into the death of Elliot Johnson, a 21 year old Conservative Way Forward worker heard Clark had threatened “I squash them like ants when they’re small and young – that’s what I’m going to do to you”. The coroner ruled Mr Johnson had committed suicide after being made redundant by CWF.

A LOVE LETTER TO THE BRITISH PEOPLE arrived on Thursday from a friend of the WS Society, Philippe Auclair, who was one of the panel at the WS Society’s successful football evening in association with The Blizzard and Tennents. Written by Auclair and several others, the letter has now been subscribed by a host of European writers, journalists, Nobel prize holders, sportsmen, filmmakers, scientists, broadcasters and many, many others distinguished in their fields. The letter is intended as a reminder to the British people of the affection and respect in which their country is held in Europe and an expression of earnest wish that the UK will vote to stay in the EU.

INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS ARE ALSO AT THE HEART of the Oscar winning film Spotlight, made available this week on pay-per-view. Two lawyers, Eric McLeish (Billy Crudup) and Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) find themselves on opposites sides in this true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work in uncovering the massive scale of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston. Crudup is happy to take small compensation payments for his clients and ask no further questions of the church hierarchy: Tucci is obsessive in his fight to prove the cover-up goes right to the Cardinal. 

A VERY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO TRUE-STORY DRAMA is employed in The Big Short, also available on pay-per-view this week. Adapted by celebrated business writer Michael Lewis from his best-selling book about the 2008 Wall Street crisis, the film follows a motley bunch of anti-heroes to explain credit-default swaps and the like in uniquely entertaining fashion. Along the way it provides an unbeatable repository of great quotes, stemming from the misfits’ view of the blissful ignorance of most of the big banks and hedge funds in the immediate run up to the crash: “So now their foot’s on fire and they think their steak is done – and you’re surprised?”; “Tell me the difference between stupid and illegal and I’ll have my wife’s brother arrested”; (walking into a financial convention in Las Vegas) “It’s like someone hit a piñata full of white people who suck at golf”… the one liners just keep on coming.


AN IMPORTANT NEW BOOK available this week is Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business by Rana Foroohar, Time Magazine’s economic columnist and global economic analyst for CNN. Foroohar contends that there is a crisis in modern developed economies, particularly in the US and UK, which she attributes to “financialisation”. The term is a catch-all for the proliferation of Wall Street and City mentality into every corner of the economy. Historically the financial markets provided a source of capital for businesses. Foroohar says that today only around 15 % of all the money in our market system actually ends up in the real economy and “the rest stays in a closed loop within the financial sector”. The financial sector accounts for 25% of US corporate profits whilst creating only 4 % of the country's jobs. Even big tech companies now underwrite corporate bond offers just like banks. Energy and transport firms have moved on from using hedging to manage risk to speculating in oil futures as a profit-boosting end in itself. And so on. It could be said that law firms too have “financialised” with their focus on the bottom line and KPIs to drive profitability and measure performance. Contingency and success fees are a form of speculation. How soon before law firms securitise their billable hours and WIP?

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.